Plaid Hat Tech and Games

Updates and musings about what I'm working on at Plaid Hat Games.
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Board Game Turns as Scenes

Joseph Arthur Ellis
United States
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Microbadge: Summoner Wars fanMicrobadge: Defcon StatusMicrobadge: RaxxonMicrobadge: Ra fanMicrobadge: Star Wars: Rebellion fan
Welcome back to my Plaid Hat Games design and tech blog!

Summoner Wars Online Beta Update

Here's where the Summoner Wars beta is at:

All 6 factions coded and tested: DONE
Authentication with DONE
Beta lobby logic: DONE
Creating/joining games: DONE
Matchmaking: DONE
Working game in beta environment: DONE
Turn notifications:
More robust in-game options:
Don't wait on server when not necessary: tried, but there is a bug somewhere
More animations and effect indicators: got more difficult, as moving/forcing/blood summon need some fixes.
Integrate audio for new factions:
AI improvements:
Secret information:
Time limits: DONE
Fix engage/guarding spirits/holy judgment bugs: DONE (but not going to deploy the changes to the demo right now, sorry)

So I've crossed some things out, but a couple items have proved more difficult than expected. It's possible this could launch at the end of the week, but will more than likely be early next week.

Server resources are a big question mark. I'm using Heroku, and it's going to take some trial and error to find the right balance of power per pod versus scaling up pods. Also, how much of a factor is the database resources? This is not my specialty, and hence why I'm using Heroku, which is a platform as a service. It lets me change/scale resources with the click of a button. I've seen it said online that its price scales up and gets too expensive, but I'm not sure it could be more expensive than the staffing cost of doing all this stuff - maybe once we're established and we can contract someone to build it all out with a higher up-front cost but a lower cost per month. Or, maybe it'll turn out to not cost too much per month on Heroku in the end, and we can stick with it.

Scenes of Stories in Games

This find by @bananachangames on Twitter got my mental gears spinning. Basically, it's an excerpt from a screenwriting book, that says every single scene requires a clear emotional arc and a clear conflict. Every. Single. Scene.

The tweet author discusses the idea as it relates to RPGs. I think there are similar parallels to board game design.

In Ashes, I'd think about each round as its own "scene," - it involves a lot of back and forth between the players - and you can see how these scenes parallel watching a movie, as at the end of an Ashes round, we often think about who had the better round. That person has a positive emotional arc, while the other player had a negative one. And the player v. player conflict is obvious.

Summoner Wars is a little less clear cut, because each "scene" is more like one player's turn. So each scene features one player as the protagonist fighting the other player's forces as the antagonist. The conflict is still crystal clear. The emotional arc, though seems to have to do with resolving the unknowns of the scene, and whether they come out in the player's favor. This would be the attack rolls, other die rolls, and also just figuring out the turn as it goes along. Often, even without random effects, your choices lead you somewhere you weren't expecting when the turn began.

For any competitive game, the conflict is between the players and to some degree the environment. But players who dislike "multiplayer solitaire" games aren't immersed by the player vs environment factor. And the emotional arc is the resolutions of the unknowns at the beginning of a round or scene - once again, it doesn't have to be random effects, it could just be the sense of discovery filled out as you make choices during your turn.

And it DEFINITELY doesn't have to be a narrative game. I think of the tile area filling up and finally being auctioned off in Ra - almost always, my group discusses whether the person got a good deal or not after the auction - that's the scene resolution. If we disagree, even better! As long as we each have a clear picture of what happened.

Ironically, this is all very natural in a competitive game and not something a designer needs to plan for. It's in a cooperative or semi-cooperative narrative game where this takes more intention from the designer.

Where games have built-in story, it's a direct parallel to movies, like the intro and endings and key story points of Forgotten Waters.

Where it's tricky is in "emergent" storytelling - like a lot of the individual moments in Forgotten Waters, and almost everything in a game like Dead of Winter. Dead of Winter is a great example because it has actual scenes written onto Crossroad Cards. In that case, it's not just the written scenes, it's how the player's external motivations and needs intersect with those written scenes that creates the conflict and emotional arc. So in these cases, there's no easy formula to make it - you just have to attempt to make those factors intersect well, and the only way to figure it out is trial and error. When your player's motivations intersect well with the mechanics of the game, emergent narrative happens.

Anyway, those aren't the most organized thoughts, but maybe it got you thinking too.

Thanks for reading again! You can follow me @joepinion on twitter or discuss here and I will try to respond.
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